What we’re reading: Dead Flowers

Breyer P-Orridge, Red Chair Posed, 2008 | p 15 / 16 | Dead Flowers, ed. Lia Gangitano | Published by Participant Inc. & VOXPOPULI

Posted by Kristan Kennedy, Visual Art Curator

“I want to be with you” I said, to which my friend replied something to the effect of, “ewwwwwwwww!” We were talking about what you might say to someone you’re really into to express your longing. My friend took issue with the word “be.” He thought it sounded too bodily, as if “being with” someone was parasitic and the phrase was too close to “I want to be you,” like wanting to crawl inside someone’s skin sci-fi style. I assure you this is not what I meant. I think of “being” in terms of being on the same page, the same emotional space, getting lost in the love cloud, getting physical, hanging out, you know, the BROAD definition of intimacy. Still he might have been on to something… 

Today on a field trip to Powell’s, the Resource Room Committee was in search of few specific things. One of them—Dead Flowers—is an anthology of writing from various artists and curators that documents an exhibition of the same name. Curator and Director of Participant Inc., Lia Gangitano says of the exhibition, “In an effort to understand a genealogy of influences reflective of the role of the non-commercial, non-institutional space I often look at to artists who seem to have inspired, or instigated their existence.” She goes on to explain that the exhibition, which features thirteen artists, was organized around the work of actor/director Timothy Carey and was made for VOXPOPULI, an independent artist-run space in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I was drawn to the book because Charles Atlas, Paul Thek, and Genesis Breyer P-Orridge are all included, and it is no secret I have massive art crushes on all of them. You might say, I want to be with them… in an intimate curatorial way.

Genesis’ chapter links back to this concept of being, in h/er essay s/he runs through the beginnings of COUM Transmissions, an artist and performance collaborative that operated from 1969–1976. Founded in Hull, Yorkshire, by Genesis, COUM’s other members included Cosey Fanni TuttiPeter “Sleazy” Christopherson, and Chris Carter, who together went on to found the pioneering industrial band Throbbing Gristle in 1976. H/er retelling of their move from commune to commune and COUM’s move towards a development of a rigorous, yet morphing set of artistic ideals is nothing short of revolutionary.

Genesis credits the beginnings of COUM’s philosophy as coming from their creative lives within two major communes: Exploding Galaxy, which was founded by David Medella in 1967, and Hoho Funhouse which followed soon after. In one passage Medella is quoted as saying, “I felt a deep dissatisfaction towards all art, all art that derives solely from one single person, and is determined by one person’s ideas and wishes.” Madella had hoped that Exploding Galaxy would usher in a flexibility in art making, community, and perhaps a dynamic new culture that could mean anything and could include anyone.

Genesis goes on to talk about h/er belief that the origins of art come from magic, first through devotion and then through illustration and then finally manifesting as commodified objects and experiences. So too does s/he describe the evolution of COUM: first as ritualistic, then as performative, and finally as an accepted art world being, in constant need of retooling and examining. The influence of the institution had changed them as much as they were changing it. 

Everything about COUM is nothing, everything about COUM is false, and everything about COUM is true.”

The collective pushed against the institution using transgression to test the boundaries of comfort. Genesis looks back at this time as important and talks about the value in constantly “redesigning” oneself. The artist uses the pronoun “we” throughout h/er essay in reference to COUM, but also to refer to h/erself. After marrying Lady Jaye Breyer P-Orridge in 1993, Genesis and Lady Jaye began a project to become Breyer P-Orridge, a single pandrogynous entity. They became each other and are now one.

In the final words of the beautifully stirring afterword, Gangitano quotes Genesis as saying, “the most transgressive thing right now is intimacy”. She believes it is still true, as do I. Let’s just be together!

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